Monday, May 4, 2009

Ranking the Big Ten QB's

Hidy ho neighbors. Welcome to the start of another week. I thought we’d rank the QB’s in the Big 10 now that spring practice is officially over. Why? Because people, including myself, love rankings. Agree, disagree, we love to rank things, and what could be better on a Monday than ranking the most important position on the field in our favorite college football conference?


Before we get to that, a quarterbacking aside that Peter King brings up in his excellent weekly Monday Morning Quarterback column. It’s always worth a read, but I wanted to bring your attention to the third page, where he talks about what a trav-sham-a-mockery it is that both Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell and Mizzou’s Chase Daniel went undrafted last weekend. Why? Because they were considered “system QB’s” who were too small and lacked arm strength. King sums it up much better than I ever could, but to echo his thoughts, it’s just ridiculous to me how much emphasis is placed on arm strength and workouts instead of how a guy performs ON THE FREAKING FIELD in college. You know, in the actual games. I was hoping that former Purdue QB Drew Brees had broken this stereotype, as Brees stands barely 5’11 and does not have a strong arm, yet in my mind is one of the three best QB’s in football right now (Peyton and Brady the other two). Sure Harrell and Daniel were “system” guys who threw a lot of passes out of the shotgun, but shouldn’t their resumes as leaders and winners who ran their offenses efficiently count for something? Former 49er coach Bill Walsh might be the greatest offensive mind who ever lived, and he said that when scouting a QB, accuracy was the first thing he looked at and arm strength was WAY down the list. Yet with all the innovations in scouting and technology around the game of football, we still have two guys like Harrell and Daniel go undrafted because they don’t have cannon arms or can complete that 20 yard out “with zip”. Because, you know, there’s a LOT of 20 yard outs to complete in an NFL game (and if you’ve ever seen a 20 yard out attempted in the NFL, you’d be the first to see it). Matthew Stafford’s Georgia teams underachieved EVERY year he played there, and despite NFL talent at every offensive position surrounding him, as King notes Stafford in his last two years as a Bulldog completed only 59% of his passes (Harrell was at 71%). But hey, because Stafford is 6’2 and can throw the ball to the moon (even if he was aiming for the ocean), he’s your #1 overall pick.

Anyway, onto a very unscientific ranking of the QB situations in the Big Ten now that spring ball has concluded. These rankings are not solely based on passing yards but overall effectiveness, as in today's college football world, an option "dual-threat" QB in the right system can be even more valuable than a classic drop-back passer. Also, let's be honest: I'm not sure Big 10 quarterbacking as a whole has ever been worse than it was in 2008. My goodness gracious, when posing the question "would you rather watch the WNBA or Big 10 quarterbacking?" I actually hesitated before saying Big 10 quarterbacking. Just the fact I hesitated at all shows how bad it was. While I expect improvements in 2009, we've got a ways to go until we reach the Big 12 level of excellence. Still, we've got to start somewhere and have nowhere to go but up. We hope.

TIER V: The State of Indiana
Not good times for the smart kids of West Lafayette. The hugely disappointing Curtis Painter (by the way, to further add insult to injury with the Harrell and Daniel comments from above, Painter had an awful year- completed 59% of his passes for just 2400 yards, 13 TD’s and 11 INT’s-yet still got drafted. For the love of pete, somebody please explain the NFL draft process to me! Please!) graduated and the hugely promising Brandon Siller has been given the boot for academic reasons. So that means your candidates for the 2009 starting spot are 5th year seniors Joey Elliott (who last year was 8-15 for 81 yards) and Chris Bennett (who has not thrown a pass in a real game in his five years on campus), along with redshirt freshman Caleb Terbush (obviously hasn’t attempted a pass yet), who won the Offensive Newcomer award in spring camp last week. While Miami transfer Robert Marve could help in 2010 IF he chooses the Boilermakers, that’s not going to help a very inexperienced trio in 2009.

The Hoosiers should be a little better than their rivals from West Lafayette considering they get a returning starter back, but probably not much better. Redshirt junior Ben Chappell had the starting gig all to himself even before former star Kellen Lewis was kicked off the team last week, and while that should erase any doubts about who The Man is in Bloomington, losing Lewis' athleticism at receiver or "The Percy Harvin combo platter" position that Lewis probably would have played doesn't help Chappell or the Hoosier offense any. Word out of spring ball is that IU is going full bore with something called "The Pistol" offense, where the quarterback stands about a yard behind center instead of further back like the shotgun (I only know about this because it's a formation used in the NCAA College Football video game, and it just happens to be my favorite game ever). Chappell could be throwing a lot more often, but considering this is Indiana, well, we'll have to wait and see if that's a good or bad thing. Teddy Schell is the only other QB on the roster who's thrown a pass (all of four- he completed one against the Badgers last year), and while one scouting service had him as the top ranked QB in the state of Illinois coming out of high school, if Schell has to see significant time, the Hoosiers are in real trouble- well probably no more than usual for IU football, but it wouldn't be good.

TIER IV: Pointing and Laughing at You While We Still Can

Want a sign of how bad the quarterback situation is at Michigan? How about when you're even entertaining the idea of playing a former high school All-American QB who hasn't played football in four years? Sure, Michigan won't be bringing former Dukie point guard Greg Paulus to the Big House in 2009, but the fact they even flirted with the idea shows just how far this position has fallen under new coach Rich Rodriguez. While I do believe Rodriguez will have this program back competing for Big Ten titles in two years (if the fan base lets him survive that long), there's certainly no Pat White in Ann Arbor for 2009. Sure, there are two talented true freshman who COULD be the next big thing in Rodriguez's spread in time, but unless that true freshman is Chad Henne or Terelle Pryor (and if you have a top-10 caliber team around them like Michigan in 2004 or Ohio State last year), it's going to be another long year offensively for the Wolverines. Still, they can't help but improve on last year's woeful passing offense, which was dead last in the conference with a meager 147.6 yards per game. Tate Forcier enrolled early, and was the starter after spring camp, but expect fellow true frosh Denard Robinson to push him once he arrives on campus in the summer. Any other QB's on the roster are simply providing depth, as Forcier and Robinson are the only two who fit the skill set Rodriguez is looking for. 2009 will probably provide plenty of growing pains, but it should lead to big strides for 2010.

The good news- Wisconsin gets their top QB back from last year. The bad news- Wisconsin gets their top QB back from last year. Hell, Brett Favre's exit from the Cheesehead State was less of a mess than the Badgers were at QB last year. In 2008 outgoing senior Allan Evridge and returning senior Dustin Sherer combined for a level of awful that hasn't been seen in Madison since before the days of Barry Alvarez. I understand that because Wisconsin will always be one of the best rushing teams in the nation (unless Bielma can screw that up too. Here's hoping) that they're never going to be ranked very highly as a passing offense. But they're going to need a helluva lot more from their quarterbacks than they received last year. The team won their first three games easily with Evridge as the starter (who for the season completed 53% of his passes for just 949 yards, 5 TD's and 5 INT's) because all he was asked to do was hand the ball off. But once Big 10 play started and they faced some real defenses, Evridge actually had to start throwing the ball and reading defenses, and it resulted in losses to Michigan (who was winless coming in) and Ohio State. He started 2-10 against Penn State and during a 48-7 blowout Sherer was brought in for (comic) relief. The Bucky Badgers would go a less-than-impressive 4-3 the rest of the way (Sherer completed just 54% for 1389 yards, 6 TD's and 5 INT's), with their only quality win coming at home against Illinois. They spanked Indiana (of their 601 total yards, only 160 were throught the air), squeaked by the Gophers, and escaped with their lives against something called Cal Poly 36-35. The coaches expect Sherer to be better, but if he falters at all, expect them to hand the reigns over to redshirt freshman Curt Phillips, a former high school All-American and Tennessee's Gatorade player of the year in 2007, who was apparently impressive in spring ball. Junior Scott Tolzien is a distant third right now. You have to wonder if Wisconsin, ala Ohio State last year, wouldn't just be better off ditching the senior in favor of the uber-talented freshman.

TIER III: Wait what?
As you've probably heard by now sophomores Kirk Cousins and Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol each threw for about 9 million yards and 4,567 TD's in the Spartans spring game. Ok, so it was only 347 yards and 4 TD's each, maybe it just seemed like more. The numbers are certainly impressive, yet let's keep in mind that a Michigan State secondary that wasn't all that great to begin with, was banged up pretty badly for that spring game. Both guys are pretty talented and could be excellent quarterbacks, but I have a lot of questions I need answered before I can move the Michigan State pivots up the rankings much. How much will they throw now that Javon Ringer is no longer there? How good are the guys they're throwing to? Will the line be able to give them enough time to throw? Will either of these guys establish themselves as the starter, or will we see quarterback roulette?

Under coach Pat Fitzgerald, the Wildcats just continue to find ways to move the ball, and continue to find capable quarterbacks. They'll miss graduating senior CJ Bacher, but shouldn't miss a beat with senior Mike Kafka returning. Kafka started two games last season when Bacher was injured, one a loss to Ohio State and the other...the other was the kick-in-the-crotch upset of the Gophers when he was 12-16 for 143 yards and TD's and RAN for another 217 yards all by his freaking self!?!?! MAN I STILL HATE THAT GAME!!! Anyway, Kafka won't be one of the top passers in the conference, but if his decision-making is good, that along with his running abilities could make him one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the Big 10. Sophomore Dan Persa is a talented backup who some thought outplayed Kafka in the spring game. Not a bad problem to have.

TIER II: Close But...
I hate Iowa. Have I mentioned that? Because I do. I really, really do. After sitting through the entire 55-0 debacle and watching the pompous, arrogant, classless Hawkeye fans parade around the Metrodome like they were used to electricity and running water...I'd better stop there. Let's just say I wish them the worst of luck this year, and I hope returning starter Ricky Stanzi is terrible- it's just I don't think he will be. I think he could be the greatest quarterback in Hawkeye history, maybe their greatest player ever. Best player in the history of the universe? Not out of the question. Not at all. Ok so I'm trying to reverse jinx him here and would love nothing more than for Stanzi to suck, taking the Hawks with him to a terrible season. I know Jewel Hampton is supposed to be a stud and all, but with Shonn Greene and his 1850 yards rushing gone to the NFL, the pressure is all on Stanzi to lead the offense. Here's hoping he crumbles under it, although I doubt it with the monster offensive line he'll have in front of him. Former QB Marvin McNutt has been moved to wideout and seemed to do well there in the spring, leaving senior Jake Christensen, who was the starter in 2007 but threw just 63 passes last year, as the primary backup. Did I mention I hate Iowa?

Despite all of my love for the Gophers, their new offensive coaches, MarQueis Gray, and all the new fun offensive weapons, this is as high as I can rank the Goph's QB situation. Despite Adam Weber's inconsistencies last year, he was still one of the top five ranked QB's in the conference, completing over 62% of his passes with an almost 2:1 TD-INT ratio. He did everything you could ask, and will have more weapons to play with this year. And that's not to mention my mancrush on the frosh Gray, who could be better than Weber right now. Still, we need to see it on the field from both guys, and no matter how much better we THINK the passing game should be with Eric Decker back, a gaggle of sophomore wide receivers improving, and Troy Stoudermire lighting up the spring game in every possible way, none of it's going to matter if the O-line doesn't take a BIG step forward.

TIER I: The Cream of the Crop
So did the Nittany Lions' success through the air last year have more to do with returning senior QB Daryll Clark, or his three top receivers (Deon Butler and Derrick Williams were taken in the NFL draft last week and Jordan Norwood will be signed as an undrafted free agent) that are no longer with him? We should find out as Clark enters this season throwing to an unfamiliar and inexperienced (albeit talented) group of pass catchers. I know Clark was first-team All conference last year, so this isn't a knock on the talented senior, but with less talent and experience (along with some questions on the offensive line) I see him carrying this offense (along with HB Evan Royster, of course), but I just don't see him being one of the two best QB's in the Big 10 in 2009. Former all-everything high school star Pat Devlin, who proved absolutely nothing in his time in Happy Valley, transferred when the Penn State coaches had the audacity not to give him a shot at the starting gig. Happy trails, Pat- don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out of town. In his place is the very talented true freshman Kevin Newsome, an early enrollee who by all reports looked fabulous in spring camp. I would have to think the hope for the Nittany Lions coaches is for Newsome to spend the year as the #2 guy, making him ready to take the starting job in 2010 when Clark graduates. Redshirt frosh Matt McGloin probably starts the year as the third stringer.

Quick, name the top passing offense in the Big 10 last year. Nope, it wasn't Purdue. Wasn't Penn State either. Would you believe it was the Fightin' Illini with 269.9 passing yards per game? I didn't either. I know the Big 10 was down last year, but it's hard to believe a disappointing 5-7 Illini squad still led the conference in passing, but it's true. Returning senior Juice Williams wasn't as consistent as coaches would like, completing only 57% of his passes with 16 picks, yet he was still an offensive monster throwing for 3173 yards and 22 TD's, and ran for another 719 yards and 5 scores. Juice held up his end of the bargain, he just didn't get much help. I mean, I know the guy is a dangerous runner, but it's never a good sign when your QB is your leading rusher. For 2009, Illinois COULD have the best offense in the conference. I know, I know, they were saying that last year, but with Juice as a senior with a solid O-line, improved running backs and a loaded receiving core, this could be a big, big year for the Illini. I expect no worse than 2nd team All-Big Ten for Juice, and he could push for All-American and conference player of the year awards. I'm telling you, in 2009 The Juice will be Loose. Behind him, backup junior QB Eddie McGee won't just be holding a clipboard, as he got snaps this spring at wideout and looked pretty good.

I'm going to admit right from the start that the Buckeyes offense last year, led primarily by super frosh Terrelle Pryor, was 2nd to last in the Big 10 in both passing offense and total offense. Pryor had all the help he could ever want, including a solid O-line giving him all day to throw, and his targets, Brian Hartline and Terry Robiskie, both were taken in the NFL draft. Yet Pryor was much more effective and comfortable as a runner than a passer. Still, while he only attempted 165 passes he was actually quite efficient, completing 100 (60.6%) for 12 TD's and just 4 INT's. Considering the kid was all of 18 playing under about as much pressure as there is in college football (Only the QB for Alabama is under more), he did pretty damn well. Sure, he loses his top 2 wideouts as well as first round pick HB Beanie Wells, but I think Pryor improves by leaps and bounds this year. According to those who were among the 95000+ at The Horseshoe, and from reports from spring practice, Pryor already looks much more polished, comfortable, and confident throwing the football. This offense is never going to throw as much as Oklahoma or Texas or Texas Tech, but when the Buckeyes need or want to throw in 2009, they're going to be much more successful doing it.

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